An afternoon in the Flint Hills

Sometimes the less we plan the better things seem to fall into place.

Sunday’s spur-of-the-moment drive to the Flint Hills provided better action and memories than many  well-planned and highly anticipated adventures.

Hank and I left home a little past noon and spent about an hour checking a deer hunting spot near Harvey County East Lake. Leaving the place I debated if there was time to check a Chase County property I hadn’t seen since summer.

Since my family was out of town and for weeks I’d been curious about the numbers of wild turkeys and prairie chickens using the property we went.

We weren’t 150 yards down the road that bisects the Flint Hills property when a flock of about 70 prairie chickens flushed from nearby cut soybeans. I watched as they flew a mile or more  out over the the prairie.

A few minutes later I spotted a flock of about 100 wild turkeys pecking and scratching in shallow snow on another field. With two permits in my pocket I decided to give the birds a try.

We hiked a wide path that could let us get close to the birds as a high creek bank shielded our approach. Eighty yards out I knew the unseen flock was still there.

Since he was a puppy my eight-year-old Labrador retriever has had a particular excitement for the big birds. Though he dutifully stayed at my side the exaggerated snap in his tail telegraphed when he started hearing and scenting the flock.

When I verbally released the dog he shot forward and turned the narrow farm field into a Keystone Cops scene. Turkeys never seem to know how to react when 85-pounds of excited dog streaks into their midst. For several seconds most of the birds ran around in confusion, packed so tightly together I couldn’t fire for fear of hitting too many birds.

Eventually a young tom split from the flock and I fired. Hank bounded happily to the downed bird and needed every inch of his height and raised head to make the retrieve.

Most of the flock flew west, and scattered in open timber. We headed east towards my pick-up, walking a grassy swale where several birds had flown. Four tried to hold tight in the cover. Hank thrashed and pounced as he worked their scent until he flushed them like super-sized quail. I shot a nice hen.

We walked the edge of another soybean field after stashing the birds in the pick-up. Several whitetails flushed from thick grass near the field. Tracks of turkeys, geese and prairie chickens pocked the snow at  mid-field.

Hank turned on scent and flushed a nice covey of at least 25 quail near a thick swale of grass. Several offered easy shots and most landed in grass not far away. I neither fired or followed. It was getting late in the afternoon and the birds needed time to feed and regroup before a cold night.

I also wanted to make the hour-long drive home during daylight.

Deer seemed to be in about every creek bottom field we passed.

Between Cassoday and Burns I slowed when I noticed a few prairie chickens sitting in the wind-blown limbs of a tree. Binoculars were no sooner to my eyes than a flock of at least 40 ‘chickens flushed from grass beneath the tree and sailed off.

With no cars in sight I stayed parked in the middle of the county road and watched the birds until they disappeared from sight.

I checked my watch. It was still just 4 o’clock.